Trying to understand hell and who belongs there (very personal issues I face)

Hi, my name is Max. I wanna preface that I am ignorant when it comes to a lot of the teachings of the Bible. I grew up going to an apostolic church, but stopped going after childhood. My understanding of the Bible and its teachings is based solely on my own reading into adulthood and what I learned as a child at my church. I am just a human looking for truth. For most issues I’ve stumbled across within the Christian faith, I’ve usually been able to research and study and come to sound terms with them. As a human being though, living on Earth, appearing to have a sense or right and wrong instilled within me, I cannot for the life of me grasp the reality of hell and who goes to it. To me, the loving God described in the Bible does not appear to align with the apparent realities of who goes to hell based on certain widely-accepted interpretations of the scripture. For example, there are roughly 1.9 billion Muslims on earth; based on the general consensus of every Christian I’ve ever come across, I am supposed to accept that it is morally just that every single one of these people go to hell (where they will be tormented forever) because they don’t believe Jesus was God. 1.9 BILLION PEOPLE suffering forever and ever because the majority of them were raised in a different geographic location does not appear to be loving and just as I would describe it. If I, as a human being who believes he is a good person, is trying to come to terms with a hell, I would think it would be up to Jesus whether these 1.9 billion people get to Heaven or not regardless of what they believe in on this earth. But the Bible doesn’t teach that. And that’s my dilemma. I can’t accept that that’s goodness and holiness. There are good Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists that do good works and live good lives, but are simply astray in their beliefs. But according to the Bible we know that good works don’t get you into heaven. Is that right? Is that morally just? Do I have to then tell myself that it’s tough love and that oh well it doesn’t affect me because I’M saved in my own belief that I was only lucky enough to hear because I was born in America and had parents who sent me to church? Wouldn’t a truly loving God do what Jesus did and simply judge us based on how we live our lives? Isn’t that true love? But the Bible doesn’t teach that. Jesus never taught that. So then I have to accept that many many people will suffer forever and ever simply because they weren’t as lucky as I was. I hate having to believe in that. I wanna be a follower of Christ, I wanna believe in Jesus and love Him and on many days I do. But this interpretation of words said in the Bible that force me to believe in an automatic entrance into eternal suffering for a huge chunk of the world despite a lot of their goodness is hard for me to swallow.

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Hi Max, welcome to the forum. This is a tough question, and I resonate with these struggles because they are things I have wondered about too. Especially how you phrase it here:

It didn’t always bother me as a kid and teen, but now it seems atrocious to be “happy” about my going to heaven if it’s at the expense of so many others being tortured forever.

Have you looked into Conditionalism at all (aka Annihilationism)? I still believe in hell, but I think there is a compelling case to be made that hell is more of a spiritual place for the powers of evil, rather than a place for humans to be tormented. In other words, humans who do not follow Jesus simply do not get an afterlife – they simply cease to exist, rather than being tormented forever. To me that jives a whole lot more with what I believe about the character of Jesus. Some follow this path to a more “universalist” understanding of Christ, but I’m not sure I can get there from scripture. It’s my understanding that some denominations teach Annihilationism, including Advent Christians (not to be confused with Seventh-Day Adventists).

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My back story is similar except that my family stopped taking us to church around the time I started grade school and, while I’ve been plenty curious about a number of things, finding an authoritative source to make sense of God and religion was never one of them. Early on, with too little information, I concluded it probably wasn’t true and left it alone.

Now I’m interested in what gives rise to God belief and I think there is something real and important behind it. But an afterlife just seems like a distortion to me. So whether heaven or hell, I don’t count on it. That makes the “why hell “question less vexing for me. I assume it is a holdover of an archaic culture. The only grace I’m interested in is what we can experience here and now.

I hope you find what you’re looking for here. I’ve learned a lot and still do here.

Hell is not a place of torture rather than a place of seperation.As to whom goes there.We will ask God when the times come i guess

The traditional imagery of hell is pretty lame. It is not the scenery which makes a place hellish but the occupants. How many times have I heard people say they would prefer hell because of the company? And the people who belong in such a place are quite simply those who make a hell of whatever place they go.

I believe in hell because I see it in the world – people making hell out of places on the earth. But for that reason I don’t believe in hell as something which God does to people but something which people do to themselves.

I don’t see much point in annihilationism. That sort of spiritual euthanasia doesn’t solve the problems with hell but only serves to make the self-righteous more comfortable. But it is simultaneously too much and too little at the same time. It is still ruling heaven by threats like a devil and the threat is a fairly empty one because there is no rational reason to fear nothingness. To me that seems more like an escape from the consequences of your actions than heaven would be.

Universalism is more reasonable than annihilationism, but I don’t think it agrees with what I see of either the Bible or of people.

Welcome aboard!
Been there, to hell, and don’t want to go back. Made it out, barely, skin of my teeth.
I don’t like it that billions are going to hell, either. Not at all. I wish like anything it wasn’t true.

What would you like to believe @MaxSeeking?

That is not relevant to what is true, although you may have convinced yourself so (many do).
 

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.

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Hey, @MaxSeeking, welcome – You may appreciate a woman’s approach related at the end of Tim Keller’s book:

During a dark time in her life, a woman in my congregation complained that she had prayed over and over, “God, help me find you,” but had gotten nowhere. A Christian friend suggested to her that she might change her prayer to, “God, come and find me. After all, you are the Good Shepherd who goes looking for the lost sheep.” She concluded when she was recounting this to me, “The only reason I can tell you this story is—he did.”

Tim Keller, The Reason for God, p.240

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Obviously I want to believe the truth, but I find it painfully evil that billions of people suffer for eternity in what is basically understood as a torture chamber for the simple fact they may be born in a place that isn’t a majority Christian nation. I have a hard time reconciling that with the descriptions of a loving God

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In any case, God is just – that is synonymous with fair. We are, however, responsible and accountable for the light that we do have, no mater when and where ‘the accident of birth’ places us.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

 
When talking about morality and sin, people rarely seem to consider what sin against God might entail – thinking and saying wrong things about God and rejecting his authority certainly qualify. We dare not presume what justice for lèse-majesté, “to do wrong to majesty”, might entail (one might expect some serious repercussions if they called a queen a whore to her face). That’s something that Job did not do amidst his many sufferings:

In all this, Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.

I don’t know of it will help or not but you can think of it this way. Either God is a just and good God that you can trust to have done Right by everyone in the end, or else this god (if it exists at all) is something much, much less than that. If the latter was actually the case, or in the worst case scenario a god exists that is actually malevolent and enjoys inflicting suffering … Then nobody is saved toward anything desirable anyway. I.e. It would be our moral duty to oppose such a monster, and unspeakable evil to be forced to spend eternity with such a one.

So either you trust a good and powerful God, even when so much remains unclear to our finite perspective right now, or else if there is no being worthy of that trust, then we likely are all deceived anyway and there won’t be anything at all to all our alternately dark, or blissful imaginings respectfully.

While some of our recorded words of Christ summon up the dark imaginings of many a religionist, I nonetheless look at the whole of Christ’s life and teachings … The beauty of love and so much of creation around … And I just don’t see any future for anything less than complete Love, much less malevolence. And I think I’m in pretty solid scriptural company for insisting on nothing less.

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And one can further ask … If there is an ultimately just and loving God, how does such a One react when beloved children show up in death’s doorway with sin and dirty rags still clinging to their tattered spirits? As evil-doers we do have reason enough in ourselves to fear meeting a God whose justice is perfect. And rightly so. I don’t think a refiner’s fire or any such purifying baptism could be described as “fun”; but one thing else it most certainly would not be: gratuitous and eternal torture just to titillate a perverse being from whom it would have been impossible that we could ever have received any exhortations toward self-sacrificial love, much less seen it actually modeled by Christ.

So even with much sin still about us - may God help us turn from it even now - in the end there is either (Lord forbid) a cosmic child-abuser, or else the loving Creator that would see all creation redeemed and rescued from its own sin. We can leave behind the evil imaginings that come from clouded minds that would wrest various isolated scripture passages away from their moorings to paint a demonic caricature of a god and instead take the lead of those who have immersed themselves in the fullness of all the scriptures and set their minds on the God of Christ, Paul, and the cloud of witnesses from both before and after. Not a safe or sanitized God, to be sure … one that inspires holy fear, yes. But Loving to a perfecting fault.

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No, no, no, no, no. Never mind ‘the truth’, whatever that is, what would you like to be true? God the Psycho? Or God the Competent?

If this issue is very important to you I suggest looking into works on conditional immortality. The wages of sin is death, not eternal life plus torture. It’s death. God is not interested in keeping people alive just to torture them forever and ever. The everlasting punishment is being dead forever without hope of resurrection. Only those saved by God is given eternal life.

You can backtrack the metaphors of endless smoke, worms that cannot die, and all consuming fire throughout the Torah as war language for destruction.

A good book on this subject is “ The Fire that a consumes” by Edward Fudge.

There is also a Facebook group, and podcast called “Rethinking Hell” hosted primarily by Chris Date.

Both of those dig very deeply into the subject of hell versus hades and the eternal punishment.

Hell is described in a number of ways but it is mostly seperation from God (into darkness etc) and not a place where God torments others.

We need to remember that people must knowingly reject God and salvation and instead practice evil intentionally to receive such judgment. I think everyone will be given grace and understand why Christ came to save us, and thus the vast majority of people will be saved. I guess anyone who knowingly and intentionally chooses the devil may spend his time with the devil - and this is trully hell.

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Remember that after his crucifixion Jesus descended into hell and preached to the spirits in prison. (It’s called the “harrowing of hell.”) Who’s to say he won’t offer to all a chance at salvation? He doesn’t want to lose anybody. (As long as your theology doesn’t teach that God condemns you to hell before you are even born.)

Yes.
The Bible is correctly described as God’s search for man, not the other way around. See “The Hound of Heaven”

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@MaxSeeking

I think all of us have struggled with the idea of hell and many of us still struggle with it. From my persecutive I think some Christians tend to unknowingly equate “accepting Jesus” with believing certain facts about him to be true." Salvation is not about a knowledge of history. Knowing Jesus, having a connection with the transforming and risen Jesus in your heart, doesn’t require you to know a single detail from the New Testament. This is something I wrote to someone else recently on the issue:

Affirming that conscious belief in the historical Jesus is the only way to the father in an absolutely universal sense sounds like fundamentalism to me. Catholics believe in purgatory and not all of us believe that the moment you die you face a single judgment for all eternity and go immediately to hell or heaven.

Even if it is true that Jesus is the only way, which most of us affirm, you can be saved by Jesus without knowing him—or at least “historical facts” about him. ‘A rose by any other name smells just as sweet.’ CS Lewis: “We do know that no person can be saved except through Christ. We do not know that only those who know Him can be saved by Him.”

Too many conservatives read GJohn as if everything is a timeless universal mandate. Much of it appears that way but it all has an appropriate setting and historical context as well. We need to temper this universal temptation by realizing John is sometimes hyperbolically reframing Jesus simply to reinforce his Christian community’s beliefs in a hostile environment as they were ousted from the synagogue and in bitter opposition with Jews post-Temple destruction. This is a persecuted community and it is being assured of the correctness of their beliefs. The prophetic Spirit is assuring them they got it right. Jesus is the way. Their adversaries, those who persecute and reject them get it wrong in failing to accept Jesus. Christians are the ones to inherit the promises made to Israel. The harsher the opposition the stronger the affirmation of the community’s beliefs. Jesus is the new dispensation, a new Genesis has begun. This is the backdrop for the Gospel of John, not Jesus existing in 2021 timelessly telling all people if you don’t believe in the facts about me in the Bible you go to hell.

Everyone my be judged based on what they know not on whether or not they were born with a good hand in the luck of life. Most Christians make exceptions for babies and those who never heard the Gospel including Abraham, Moses, et al. But once we do this we cannot claim that conscious faith in the historical Jesus is a requirement for salvation. If we think that babies or people who have never heard of Jesus could possibly be saved then we cannot exhaustively claim that conscious belief and acceptance in Jesus’ historical revelation and mission, in the incarnation of God, is a necessary requirement for salvation. It might be the best road to salvation but it’s not the only road. There may be other roads and ways of knowing the transforming and risen Jesus, in this life or the next. It’s a very simple logical proposition. If p was absolutely required for q then in no way could babies or Moses be saved. You could not make it to q without p. As C. Stephen Evan’s wrote,

“Can we maintain that awareness of God’s historical incarnation is necessary for salvation and also hold that at least some of those who lack such historical knowledge are saved? Logically, one cannot hold that p is necessary for q, and also hold that q can be achieved without p. One must clear-headedly hold on to this logical truth and not allow sentiment to fuzzy up our thinking on such matters.” The Historical Christ & The Jesus of Faith, p 107

In other words, we can admit Jesus is the only way to God and also believe that one does not have to accept Christian doctrine in order to be saved through him. Salvation is not about giving your intellectual assent to something. We aren’t that smart that God cares about our IQ or the babble that we think we mean. The Gospel doesn’t need or require our approval. It is not one of the many doors in life but the hinge of all doors. Accepting the transforming and risen Jesus in your heart does not require giving intellectual assent to the verisimilitude of a book. People of other faiths who repent, love God and try to follow his will, living a charitable life, demonstrating the fruits of the Spirit, can and do make it into heaven.

I don’t endorse any fundamentalist claims about hell or any Calvinistic type theology about God selecting some but not others to spend in heaven. In fact, these types of beliefs, the ones that make God seem immoral or like a monster, are not going to be true. We know from Jesus that God is love. The historical Jesus demonstrated God’s love and brought good news. 90% of the world suffering eternity in hell, many due to mere geography and powers outside their control, is not good news. That is a literalist perversion of Scripture and insults God by maligning true nature.

If you think babies who die in infancy go to hell, we don’t believe in the same God. If you think babies can make it to heaven, then conscious belief in the historical incarnation of Jesus is not a necessity for salvation. It is as simple as that.

Vinnie

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I suspect you have it right. It is primarily about trust and commitment. Thrash around, make mistakes but all is not lost so long as your . But salvation is a state that can be entered into or lost, like the Beatles’ “instant karma”. Or so it seems to me.

*Edited to say I don’t know why your entire post was quoted instead of these two sentences: “Salvation is not about a knowledge of history. Knowing Jesus, having a connection with the transforming and risen Jesus in your heart, doesn’t require you to know a single detail from the New Testament.”

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